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What is romance?
valentines day card
The song goes, "When the bright moon is shining far up above, somewhere, someone is pining the same as you" CREDIT: Fischler, H. A., words and music. "Someday Someone Will Whisper 'I Love You.'" Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Vandersloot Music Publishing Company. 1910. Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 (from Duke University), American Memory collections, Library of Congress.

My assignment this week, whether I liked it or not, was to write an article about the inner workings of romance. This article, I was told, had to be a first-person perspective on the issue. I thought this would be an easy assignment, but it turns out that defining romance is harder than I expected.

The first person I approached for this article was my wonderful and loving boyfriend. I thought that surely he would have some perspective on what it took to be romantic. For one of our first dates this man got us behind the scenes at the Oakland Zoo to feed giant tortoises before the park opened. That was by far the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me. I am crazy about my pet tortoise and have always wanted to work at a zoo, and he took the time to learn that about me and turned it into an incredible date. I thought that surely he would have some perspective on what it takes to be romantic.

Unfortunately, he refused to participate in an interview. When pressed further for a definition of “romance,” he quoted verbatim.

“Romance: Noun. a. A love affair. b. Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love,” he read.

Well that was at least a little helpful. The dictionary definition is a starting point, but it doesn’t really seem to capture every facet of romance. I decided to interview everyone around me who is currently in a relationship to come up with workable and accurate definition of romance.

My next interview subject was my co-worker Hector Ramirez. You might remember Hector from an earlier Journal article about his unique wedding proposal. Hector took out a billboard on Golden State Boulevard that read “Arianna, will you marry me? Love, Hector.” She said yes, and they have been happily married for three months. Hector and Arianna met on Myspace when they were in their teens. Hector said that he talked to a lot of strangers on the social networking site, but Arianna was different.

“We had a lot of things in common so I took it more seriously. I met her in person a few times before we went on a date. I wasn’t interested in dating girls if I didn’t think it could be serious,” he said.

Carlos Lupian, who sits next to Hector, agreed that common interests and friendship are important for a relationship to work. He said that his wife, Myra Lupian, is his best friend. They got married two months ago but they have been together for 10 years.

“Being friends is important for romance. I want to spend time with my wife, we entertain each other and have a good time,” Carlos said.

Friendship seems to be big criteria for all of my interviewees. Kristina Hacker, editor of the Turlock Journal, put it eloquently.

“You have to find pleasure in being with your partner or spouse on a daily basis. My husband makes me smile every day and to me that’s romance. But flowers once in a while wouldn’t hurt,” she said.

I also interviewed Kristina’s friend, Maggie Gianesin about what romance means. She met her husband on a Christian dating website when he lived in Pennsylvania and she lived in California. She said that shared faith was important to her in a romantic relationship. She also had two children and was looking for someone who shared parenting responsibilities.

“For me it was important that he was a good father,” Gianesin said.

Shared beliefs, life interests and parenting practices do seem important for a long-term romantic relationship. So I have a pretty good idea of what people look for in a partner, but I was still searching for the definition of romance. I felt it was time to call in a romance expert, and I just happen to know one.

Kimberly Van Meter is a romance novelist who has written 18 books. Her 16th book, “A Daughter’s Perfect Secret” will be published this March. If she couldn’t define romance for me then I don’t know anyone who can. I was surprised to learn that the word “romance” has a very specific meaning in the publishing world.

“A romance is a story that has two central characters, usually a hero and a heroin, who have a happily ever after at the end… all the trials and tribulations in between don’t matter, it’s the happily ever after that defines a romance novel,” Van Meter said.

That’s great for characters in a novel, but real life continues even after we ride off into the sunset. So I asked Kim what she considered romantic. She and her husband have been together for 20 years, but she said it’s still the small things that are important to keep romance going. She makes her husband’s lunch every day, and he sends her texts just to say she’s awesome.

“I think we should take the opportunity to be romantic and loving every single day,” she said.

Romantic gestures, both big and small, seem to be important to everyone I interviewed. Carlos Lupian said that one small thing he does for his wife is cleaning the dishes, even though he absolutely hates it. He also occasionally buys her flowers “just because” or makes a special home-cooked meal.

“I feel that if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you don’t keep doing romantic gestures you become really bad at it,” Carlos said.

 What I learned from all of this talk of romance is that each person has their own definition of what is romantic. I was wooed by a trip to the zoo, Arianna got her own billboard, and Kristina just wants flowers once in a while. But we all seem to agree that it’s important to take time out of your day to recognize the people you love. And that’s romance, on Valentine’s Day or any day of the year.